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Capitol Notebook: In Legislature, proposals just don't die

Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont Friday tells the Senate Tax Committee about her bill to build a Vikings stadium. With her is Chairman Ted Mondale of the Sports Facilities Commission. DON DAVIS | BEMIDJI PIONEER

ST. PAUL -- The Vikings stadium saga illustrates tricks legislators use to turn their dreams into state law.

The stadium construction plan needed to go through many committees, each examining part of the plan. Tax committees, for instance, were charged with looking at how the proposal dealt with a plan to change how charitable gambling is taxed. Local government committees needed to look at how the plan affected local governments.

Each committee posed a challenge, and one House committee actually defeated the plan. But once the National Football League commissioner put pressure on state leaders to approve a new stadium, legislative leaders got involved to move the bill along so it could receive votes in the full House and Senate.

Perhaps the most prominent method of greasing the skids in the stadium debate was to only take voice votes in some committees.

For stadium supporters, the advantage of a voice vote was that a committee chairman, under pressure to advance the bill, could tend to give hear more pro-stadium votes. And if committee members got the word to not question the chairman's hearing, the bill moves on.

If roll call votes are taken, each member's vote is recorded on the controversial issue, making passage much more difficult. Final passage in the full House and Senate, however, always is by recorded votes.

Leaders also can influence what committees hear a bill. In the Senate's case, Tax Chairwoman Julianne Ortman originally did not think her committee needed to consider the stadium measure.

However, after word spread that there were 174 references to taxes in the bill, pressure mounted and she decided to schedule a hearing. But in the House, Tax Chairman Greg Davids did not request a hearing in his committee.

Then there is the case where Rep. Morrie Lanning's stadium bill lost in one committee. Some outside observers would call it dead, but a few days later Lanning's plan was amended onto another bill, and it quickly moved to the full House.

People who hear about a bill losing in a committee, or even in the full House or Senate, often think the story ends there. But in the Minnesota Legislature, as the saying goes, nothing is finished until lawmakers go home for the year.

Even then, things could change next year.

Rural schools need help to compete in the federal Race to the Top program, U.S. Sen. Al Franken says.

The Minnesota Democrat asked federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan to provide that technical assistance.

"Rural school districts in Minnesota and across the country often can't compete with larger school districts for these important federal grants because they lack the staff and other resources to do so," Franken wrote to the secretary. "We need to ensure that there's a level playing for all school districts - whether in rural, urban or suburban areas - when competing for these funds. The bottom line is that kids across Minnesota deserve access to a great education no matter where they live."

In a year when lots of potential constitutional amendments were discussed, Minnesota state Rep. Tom Rukavina said there is one he likes.

"The only constitutional amendment I will support is one that limits the number of lawyers in this body," the Virginia Democrat said to laughs from lawyers in the House.

Ten U.S. senators introduced legislation to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

"The spread of Asian carp into the Great Lakes would have a disastrous ecological impact and harm Minnesota's recreation and fishing industries that are so important to our state's economy," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. "It is vital that we take action to work on effective barriers that will prevent the spread of Asian carp and protect our waterways."

The bill is separate from other legislation to keep the carp from moving north on the Mississippi River into Minnesota.

"The spread of Asian carp and other invasive species is a threat to our native wildlife and to tourism in Minnesota and throughout the Great Lakes region," Franken said. "We need to take immediate action to stop the spread of these species in order to protect jobs, maintain our environmental balance, and preserve our lakes and rivers for future generations."

The carp, including the infamous flying variety, can eat so much food that native fish go hungry.